Oakland Unified School District celebrates low teacher vacancies
on September 5, 2016
The talent recruiters at the Oakland Unified School District worked around the clock this summer to make sure all students in Oakland would have a teacher waiting to welcome them back to school. They had to. Last year, students returned to find as many as 77 of their classrooms manned by an improvised crew of coaches and librarians as the district scrambled to fill the vacancies with credentialed teachers. This year, as of August 28, there were only three vacancies remaining, although charter schools, which make up roughly one-fourth of Oakland’s schools, were not counted in the district’s total.
MaryClaire Delgado, who oversaw hiring this summer as Interim Talent Recruiter for OUSD, said she was happy with how they opened, but remains unsatisfied. “I wanted to open with zero” vacancies, she said, rattling off a list of priorities for next year including developing stronger local talent pipelines and increasing teacher diversity.
Still, the three-vacancy figure is striking given the statewide shortage of teachers in California. According to a report by the American Institute for Research, K-12 education bore the brunt of California’s budget crisis from 2008 to 2012. As the state’s K-12 budget shrank 14 percent, pink slips piled up and class sizes swelled. Now, as funding has begun to flow again, districts are eager to rehire teachers to pre-recession levels.
But there aren’t enough teachers. A 2016 brief from the Learning Policy Institute, which conducts non-partisan research on education policy, estimates that California would have to hire an additional 60,000 teachers to return to its pre-recession student-teacher ratio of 24:1, and 135,000 to match the national average of 16:1. Meanwhile, the independent non-profit reports, enrollment in teaching programs has fallen 70 percent in California over the last decade.
Against this grim background, Oakland educators decided early on last year that they had to do better. Ensuring a teacher for every classroom required a collaborative, multi-pronged approach, district personnel and local principals said.
Delgado cited a beefed up social media presence and a new online application as some reasons for this year’s hiring success. The teacher’s union also contributed. Last year, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) fought successfully for a new bonus referral program, which allows teachers to collect $1,000 for every new hire they recommend for a high-needs position such as special education.
New hire Karl Kaku said he was attracted through recruitment fairs hosted by OUSD in partnership with non-profits such as Educate78 and Educate for Change. Kaku, a veteran teacher now teaching 10th grade English at Skyline High School, said he was impressed with how accommodating OUSD’s talent team was. “They really, really made me feel like they wanted me,” he said. “They made me feel like I wasn’t just some number.”
Kaku, who came to Skyline from Fresno Unified School District with 22 years of teaching experience, is a member of a wave of new Oakland teachers who were hired from outside the district as a result of changes made to Article 12 last year. The article is an OUSD- Oakland Education Association policy that governs how Oakland teachers are reassigned if they lose their jobs due to school closure or declining enrollment.
Previously, Oakland teachers who lost their jobs were reassigned within the district automatically. Principals had to wait to hire from out of district until district teachers had been placed first. But as a result of negotiations with the Oakland Education Association, Oakland’s teacher’s union, school leaders wielded greater autonomy this year in selecting the teachers they wanted from both within and out of district.
Principal Claire Fisher of Urban Promise Academy, a small middle school located in the Fruitvale, cited the changes to Article 12 as a major reason for the smoother start this year. Fisher said she hired all seven of her new teachers from outside of the district, with some even coming from out of state.
Still, Fisher said, there were a number of new teachers whom her school wanted to hire but couldn’t because they were deterred by Oakland’s low salaries. “I had one teacher we really wanted from San Francisco Unified who turned us down because it would have meant a $10,000 pay cut,” Fisher said.
In 2014, the National Institute on Teacher Quality reported that Oakland teachers’ salaries ranked 120 out of 125 nationally when cost of living was factored in. According to a special project from the San Francisco Chronicle examining the affordability of teaching published in May this year, Oakland teachers make on average $58,000, but spend 41 percent of their income on rent–11 percentage points over what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development defines as “affordable.”
In the face of these realities, Fisher said Oakland residents should applaud the district’s staffing achievement, but also head to the polls to vote for measures like G1 if they want to see Oakland’s education system make sustainable gains. Measure G1, also known as the OUSD Parcel Tax, would levy a $120 per parcel property tax to fund salary raises for Oakland teachers. The measure, which is expected to raise over $12 million dollars, must be approved by at least two-thirds of Oakland voters on November 8.
Meanwhile, Delgado was already busy training the next generation of Oakland educators. Late Wednesday night at a meeting organized by the district, a group of future Oakland teachers, who will enter the classroom in 2018 as a part of a new certification pathway, wrote their values on a whiteboard in perfect teacher print: openness, dependability, growth, love, allyship.
“The main thing is to grow our own people,” Delgado said. “We have 7,000 positions that should never go vacant.”
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